BY JOHN SHERIDAN
Although I’m a professional furniture maker, not every piece that I build is an heirloom. In fact, I’ve discovered that designing attractive, durable pieces that can be built in a short amount of time can be just as satisfying as making fine furniture. I call these my “6/8” designs, because they can be finished in a day or over a weekend—in six to eight hours.
The table and bench shown here both fit this description of expedited building. Although they look completely different, their joinery—dowels reinforced with corner blocks—is identical. This simple joinery doesn’t get much attention these days, but the joints are easy to create and they’re very strong. I learned the technique from a shop near mine that specializes in building high-end upholstery frames. There, corner-blocked double-dowel joints are used exclusively, because they’ve proven to be both efficient and durable. As you can see from the two pieces shown here, you can make variations easily when you employ this versatile joinery. Just use your imagination.
A TAPERED LEG TABLE
Dramatically tapered legs give this large table a light and airy appearance, even though it’s built strongly enough to support three dozen orchids. I made the legs and aprons from construction grade Douglas fir 2×4 and 4×4 timbers that were left over from a remodeling job (the timbers had been stacked and allowed to dry for three months). The 4×4 timbers were riftsawn (1), which made them perfect for the legs, because all four faces showed straight grain. The top is 3/4″ maple plywood. To save time, I rounded over the plywood edges, instead of gluing on edging. The primer and paint fills the grain.
My normal procedure for assembling table bases is to mill the stock, drill for the joinery and then shape the legs. I squared and planed the leg timbers to 3″ by 3″. After milling the 2×4 rails to 1-1/2″ thickness, I ripped them to final width. I used my radial arm saw to square the ends of all the pieces and cut them to length.
The one caveat with dowel joinery is that it requires precise layout and sharp brad point bits. I prefer to use a Veritas Sliding Square (#05N32.01) for marking (2), rather than the more familiar combination square. I outfit my drill press with a fence to drill the centered holes in the leg blanks (3). I use a doweling jig to drill the holes in the ends of the rails. The photo (4) shows my prized Stanley #59, which I found in an antique shop in Asheville, NC, but just about any dowelling jig will work. For the strongest joints, the dowels should extend at least twice their diameter into the wood on both pieces. The dowels for this table are 1/2″ dia., so all the holes are 1-1/16″ deep—the extra 1/16″ depth helps to ensure that the joint will close, by providing a cavity for excess glue. Whether using the drill press or the doweling jig, the key to success during this step is to locate the tip of the brad point bit with pinpoint accuracy.
PLANS AND PATTERNS
|ORCHID TABLE CUTTING LIST|
|A||Legs||4 @ 3″ × 3″ × 34-1/4″|
|B||Short aprons||2 @ 1-1/2″ × 3″ × 15″|
|C||Long aprons||2 @ 1-1/2″ × 3″ × 58″|
|D||Dowels||24 @ 1/2″ dia. × 2″|
|E||Corner blocks||4 @ 1″ × 1-1/2″ × 3″|
|F||Top||1 @ 3/4″ × 24″ × 79″|
|G||Top fasteners||14 KV #320 or similar|
|BATH BENCH CUTTING LIST|
|A||Legs||4 @ 1-1/2″ dia. × 15-3/4″|
|B||Short aprons||2 @ 1″ × 2-1/2″ × 10″|
|C||Long aprons||2 @ 1″ × 2-1/2″ × 17″|
|D||Dowels||16 @ 3/8″ dia. × 2″|
|E||Corner blocks||4 @ 1″ × 3/4″ × 1-1/2″|
|F||Top||1 @ 3/4″ × 14″ × 25″|
|G||Top fasteners||6 KV #323 or similar|
|H||Glides||4 @ 3/4″ dia.|
I taper the legs using my bandsaw, equipped with a 1/2″ 3-tpi blade. Because it’s so easy to accidentally taper a leg the wrong way, I mark the outside corner on the bottom of each leg with an “x.” This corner is the only one that isn’t cut away during the tapering. The taper starts 1″ below the rail, a standard technique to allow for transition sanding to the rails. After drawing the taper on one face of each leg blank, I cut to the outside edge of the line. Then I mark the second taper on the sawn face, so the leg rests flat on the table when I make the cut (5).
When both tapers are sawn, I remove the saw marks by jointing. On the jointer, the thick end of the leg goes first, so that the cut follows the grain (6). The photo shows my trusty old 8″ Silver jointer (circa 1918). It still has Babbett bearings, but I replaced the original square “finger-chopper” cutter-head with a modern custom-made cutter-head that uses Delta knives. I also installed a Northfield blade guard.
Sand the legs and aprons with 100, 150 and 220 grit sandpaper. Carefully smooth the transition on the tapered faces, so the taper extends to the bottom of the rail. Complete the legs by routing 1/8″ chamfers around the bottom, to prevent tearing out the edges when the table is moved. Attach felt pads, if necessary, to protect your hardwood floor.
Before I start gluing, I test my joinery with “fitting dowels” (7 and 8). These dowels are carefully sawn halfway from each end, offset 90°, to make them springy and easy to remove. I use solid dowels for glueup—these dowels must be grooved or spiral-cut to allow excess glue to escape.
Gluing the table base together is a two step process. First I glue each short apron between two legs. Then I glue the long aprons between the two assembled ends (9). I start by installing the dowels in the aprons. Then I press on the legs. Seating each individual dowel is easy, but substantial forces come into play when pressing in six dowels, to create each end, or twelve dowels, to complete the base. I use Jorgenson “I” bar clamps for this job. Clamping pads between the legs and clamps are a must, to prevent dents in the wood.
Mitered corner blocks reinforce the joints and complete the base. I cut and notch these blocks on the bandsaw and disc sand them to fit. They’re glued to the rails and attached to the legs with #10 × 2-1/2″ flathead tapping screws.
I fasten the top to the frame with Knape & Vogt (KV) steel tabletop fasteners, which are available in several sizes from most hardware catalogs or commercial hardware dealers. The KV #320 (10, at left) is the best size for this table. These S-shaped fasteners slide into slots in the aprons cut with the biscuit jointer adjusted to the #20 setting. A router equipped with a 3/16″ slotting cutter works, too. The slot must be positioned so that screwing in the fasteners pulls the top to securely to the frame (11).
These fasteners are usually used with solid wood tops, to allow seasonal movement. Movement isn’t an issue here, because the top is plywood. I use them because they’re economical to buy and easy to install.
Before installing the fasteners, I dust them with spray paint, to keep them from rusting; here I used gloss black paint.
I finished this table base with three coats of clear waterborne polyurethane. In good drying conditions, I can apply all three coats in less than two hours. The top is satin latex paint. The painted-on socks visually ground the feet and add a touch of whimsey.
A TURNED LEG BENCH
I designed this small bench for a bathroom. Its columnar legs match the fixtures and its painted finish matches the bathroom walls and trim. The 3/4″ marine plywood top is impervious to moisture and plastic glides keep the feet dry. The cylindrical legs require only basic turning skills, using a roughing gouge, a skew and a beading tool, followed by sanding. My design creates a tight transition from the curved legs to the flat aprons. The joinery is the same as on the tapered leg table, although completing it requires a few additional steps.
Once again, milling the stock is the first step. Plane and square the leg blanks to 1-9/16″ billets (as the squared stock is called before joinery and shaping). Plane the aprons to 1″ thick and rip them to 2-1/2″. Square the ends of the billets and aprons and cut them to length.
Next, drill 1-5/16″ deep dowel holes in the legs and 1-1/16″ deep holes in the aprons. First, lay out the holes on adjacent faces of each leg. As before, the holes are always centered across the width. But because these leg blanks are smaller in section, there’s a problem: If the holes are drilled at the same location in each adjacent face, they’ll intersect, resulting in a weak joint. My solution is to offset the holes, higher on one face and lower on the other, so they don’t intersect. This creates another challenge: making sure that the offset holes drilled in the aprons match the offset holes in the legs. My solution for this issue is to lay out the dowel holes to create the legs in two mirror-image pairs. Then I orient the “high-hole” faces with the short aprons and the “low-hole” faces with the long aprons. As on the tapered leg table, I drill the leg holes on my drill press and the apron holes with my doweling jig.
At this point, I locate and mark the centers on both ends of all the legs, to facilitate turning; the centers must be marked before the next step is completed.
To create the transition from curved leg to flat apron, both joint faces of each leg are precisely notched to fit the aprons. First, I use a tenoning jig to cut the cheeks (12). Then I use the tablesaw to cut the shoulders (13). The completed notches measure 1/4″ × 2-1/2″; the dowel holes should now measure 1-1/16″ deep, so the dowels protrude 1″ (14).
After mounting each leg on the lathe with the notched end at the tailstock, I use a spindle roughing gouge to turn the cylinder and calipers to gauge the diameter. Turning the notched end is no big deal; just maintain the same technique: keep the gouge firmly on the tool rest and apply light, steady cutting pressure. Stop the lathe to gauge the diameter. I switch to an oval skew chisel to make a final cleaning pass (15). It leaves a super-clean surface that requires minimal sanding. Turning the leg to a cylinder reduces the width of the notch faces—I aim for them to end up 1″ wide. I use a 3/8″ beading tool to create the foot and round the bottom. Light sanding completes the job.
PHOTO BY SCHOPPLEIN.COM
PHOTO BY SCHOPPLEIN.COM
From here on, the steps parallel the tapered leg table. I test-fit the joints (16). If an apron protrudes beyond the leg’s 1″ wide flat notches, I plane the apron’s outside face to make it flush. After gluing the aprons to the legs, I install the corner blocks (17). Then I fasten the top, using smaller KV #323 fasteners (10, at right).
As I said at the outset, completing a useful, well-constructed product in a short period of time is a worthwhile endeavor. After all, life is short and there are so many projects to build!